The morphing of my writing process

There are writers out there who claim that if everyone followed their processes (often involving detailed pre-plotting and single drafts), we would all write better books more quickly. Personally, I think it’s arrogant to assume that a process that works for one writer is obviously going to work for another.

Conventional wisdom holds that a new writer should try different things and then once she discovers what works for her, to stick with that process. I agree with that in spirit, but I’d like to go a step further. One should also be open to changing one’s process as one grows as a writer and especially if one hits blockages.

Some very fine authors (Jo Beverley and Julia Ross come to mind) do not do detailed pre-plotting. I think their results justify their methods! I don’t do detailed pre-plotting either. I’ve tried in the past, but I don’t get a good sense of my characters and where they’re going until I’ve put them through situations that force them to reveal themselves.

I also know of some writers who produce beautiful first drafts, polishing as they go. (Julia Ross is one). But for me, to come up with characters, plot, setting and the right words to describe it all in one go would be like riding a bicycle and juggling simultaneously. My own stories develop in layers, improving with each successive draft.

The writing process I have followed for most of my books:

  • I start with a kernel of the story: the reason I want to write it. Usually it’s a character and/or a situation that intrigues me. I spend some time brainstorming other elements of the story to fit that kernel. I make a stab at filling out Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation & Conflict worksheet. I do some preliminary research into anything that relates to the kernel of the story. I try not to worry about holes, trusting that if I love the kernel the rest will eventually come together.
  • I plunge into the first draft, a painful, ugly process of stumbling around in the dark until my characters hand me a light. The result is primordial sludge from which I hope a real story will emerge.
  • The story starts to come together in the 2nd and 3rd drafts. This is the point where I ask a few trusted critique partners for feedback. This is also when I usually start to actually enjoy the process!
  • I do one or more additional drafts to add more depth and fix problems. I may have my critique partners look at revised scenes, especially if I’ve made big changes or I’m worried about whether something is working.
  • A couple more rounds of line editing and hopefully the manuscript is good to go!

This process has morphed a bit. As I started to make the transition from writing traditional Regencies to longer historicals, I found that I was having more and more trouble with the early drafts. I’d convinced myself this was a huge leap rather than a natural extension of what I’d already been doing. My muse fled and writing became a painful chore.

Several changes that have helped:

  • I have started to alternate between stories a bit (still with an eye toward closure, of course). What I’m finding that having several stories at different stages of development takes some pressure off the work-in-progress. Also it’s easier to reenter a story that has done some simmering on the back burner.
  • The NaNoWriMo challenge is helping me outrun the internal editor. The focus on wordcount has helped me enjoying the process of writing again and worry less about the ultimate product. Of course, the ultimate product does matter, but I already know I’m a good rewriter. As Nora Roberts says, “You can fix a poorly written page, but you can’t fix a blank one.”

As to writing schedule, I strive for discipline. With two young children, I don’t have much evening or weekend time to write, which means I can’t afford to leave things to a big deadline push. I need to chip away steadily. So I write at least a couple of hours every morning (my mind works best then) and then try for a couple more in the afternoon, barring errands, sick children or household disasters.

I realize now that people asked about books on the art and craft of writing, but that could fill a whole new post, so if it’s OK, I’ll save that for next week.

I hope this was interesting and/or useful!

Elena
LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, RT Reviewers’ Choice, Best Regency Romance of 2005
www.elenagreene.com

P.S. The cartoon is by Debbie Ridpath Ohi at www.inkygirl.com.

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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